Background: Testing for human epidermal growth factor receptor-2 (HER-2) in breast cancer is performed by either immunohistochemistry (IHC) or in situ hybridization (ISH). The growth factor receptor-bound protein-7 (GRB7) gene is in close proximity to HER-2 on chromosome 17q11-12 and codes a signal transduction molecule shown to be an independent adverse marker in breast cancer. Methods: HER-2 and GRB7 protein expression from 613 frozen breast tumors was determined by Western analysis. HER-2 protein results were confirmed with IHC. Commercial HER-2 FISH was performed on a subset of tumors with multi-probe FISH used to assess the extent of HER-2 gene amplification. mRNA expression was determined by Multi-plex RT-PCR. Results: Seven tumors with GRB7 protein over-expression scored HER-2 FISH amplified but had no HER-2 protein over-expression. Four of the 7 tumors showed elevated GRB7 but not HER-2 mRNA over-expression. The breast cancer cell line HCC3153 did not over-express HER-2 protein but showed HER-2 FISH amplification of a limited segment around the HER-2 gene. Ten breast cancer tumors from the TCGA database had gene copy number increases around HER-2 without HER-2 mRNA or protein over-expression. Conclusions: A subset of human breast cancers that test positive with FISH for HER-2 gene amplification do not over-express HER-2 protein. One mechanism for this discordance is the incomplete amplification of the smallest HER-2 region of chromosome 17q11-12, which includes GRB7. HER-2 gene amplification without protein over-expression is clinically significant because patients with such tumors are unlikely to benefit from HER-2 targeted therapy. Electronic supplementary material: The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/2193-1801-2-386) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.